Showing just how hypocritical a supposedly unforgiving industry is, Vanity Fair unleashed a 2,600-word love letter on Tuesday to MSNBC’s The 11th Hour host, disgraced ex-NBC Nightly News anchor and serial liar Brian Williams, touting the “wistful” anchorman’s “rare second act.”
The media continue to emphasize the importance of the truth and “Facts First,” but Williams’s revival showcased how, for some news organizations, such promises are, at best, less than truthful and, at worst, garbage. With gooey quotes from frequent guests, the profile did nothing more than serve as a P.R. item for Williams and paint his show as a late-night Morning Joe.
“Most broadcasters would have been cooked if they had undergone the sort of scandal that Williams faced in 2015. But a slow-and-steady revival—a mixture of dutiful penance, clever planning, and a dramatic change in the media—has Williams turning 11 p.m. into the new primetime,” read reporter Emily Jane Fox’s subhead for her profile.
The story began with a rather descriptive and pathetic discussion of what Williams wears for his show and how he spent time with Fox staring out his office window:
“I keep the pants around, mostly for funerals or church,” Brian Williams told me one recent, slightly tropical October evening. We were sitting in his second-floor office at 30 Rock, where Williams was reluctantly answering my questions about, among other things, his evolving professional sartorial tastes....Now, as the host of The 11th Hour, at the decidedly un-primetime hour of 11 p.m., Williams has admittedly loosened up. He still keeps a mess of ties hanging in a closet—“enough to survive if we’re in lockdown for several days,” he joked—but now prefers slim-fit AG jeans with his sport jacket....“It’s 2017. I’m 58 years old. No one’s going to say, Hey!”
It was a few hours before showtime, and Williams seemed wistful. He occasionally stared out the wall-to-wall windows lining two sides of his office to catch a glimpse of the fourth game of the American League Championship Series between the Yankees and Astros that was being projected onto the plaza....He pointed to the spot where the famous Christmas tree would be set up next month. “I do love it up here,” Williams said, genuinely.
Fox recapped how Williams lost his job and summarized the lies that he had told throughout his career, but quickly gushed: “Many journalists would have lost their jobs over such an infraction, or quickly resigned under contrived circumstances. Williams, however, embarked on a different path. The anchor, who grew up in a working-class Catholic family that oscillated between New Jersey and New York, instead performed an extended penance of sorts.”
She also touched on his weak mea culpa interview with colleague Matt Lauer, but brushed aside the awkwardness, dubbing it an interview in which Williams “may not have nailed essential questions that many observers wanted answered, but it revealed real grief—the anguish of a guy who knew he had inexplicably screwed up.”
Give me a break. Unfortunately, it got worse, moving onto when he returned to TV with MSNBC as their breaking news anchor and the first big event being Pope Francis’s U.S. trip:
At the end of his suspension, Williams suggested to Lack that he return to MSNBC in the role of breaking-news anchor. His first broadcast coincided with Pope Francis’s inaugural official visit to the United States. “Grab your own metaphor, but it was an emotional event to return to,” Williams told me. “I was mostly very excited and hopeful to be back in the game.”
Fox also chronicled how Williams and NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack thought in August 2016 that it’d be a fine idea to give the serial liar a show that Williams himself told viewers on night one that would be self-canceling (after the election).
It was here that the swooning kicked into high gear. Fox spun it as the “trial balloon into a media environment perfectly pitched for this sort of show” as the show continued past the election. She even quoted Lack comparing The 11th Hour to “a 21st-century version of Nightline that could scratch that itch.”
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She continued by touting Williams’s “rare second act in a very unforgiving business” that’s “reinvigorated” Williams that begins each “day by speeding through that day’s episode of Morning Joe, which he records, before diving into e-mails and texts from his staff of around 12 news-obsessed millennials.”
As shown by the next graph, Williams is clearly anything but a man of the people (as much as he may try to claim) by these pathetic descriptions [emphasis mine]:
Williams, who splits his time between homes in Connecticut and New Jersey, plus an apartment in Midtown, then works on the show until airtime, writing and re-writing his scripts himself, as he did when he anchored Nightly News. “What happened was an acute time in my life, and I had put a lot of people through a lot. I knew I needed to get back,” he said. “I am grateful for every day.”
Williams is, on some level, a man of conflicting identities. On the one hand, he is one of the most recognizable men in America, who occasionally eats sandwiches in his office with his friend Tom Hanks before his show goes live....At the same time, he still goes to the same Jersey Shore stock-car track where his dad took him. A number of fire helmets line the walls behind the desk, including his yellow rookie helmet. (He began volunteering at 18.) His desk is adorned with a pair of brass knuckles, a gift from “a fellow high-school graduate who succeeded in life,” and binoculars, “in case we have an incident,” like when two New York Rangers players were skating outside earlier this week. “I’ve never been on skates a day in my life. Skates or skis. I never had an opportunity growing up.” Williams then reminded me that he never graduated from college.
Fox also breathlessly proclaimed how he spent his suspension in an awful paragraph that couldn’t have been written any better if NBC P.R. had done this item [emphasis mine]:
Williams spent “the troubles” doing a lot of reflection, and talking “to the kinds of people in the America I grew up in.” He drove across the country and took advantage of the opportunity to get re-certified as a firefighter. In fact, one of the only public appearances he made during his suspension was a fund-raiser for his New Jersey alma mater, Mater Dei Prep. “They’re all me and it’s home,” he told me, referring to the guys he sees changing engines at the stock-car races. “It took me 30 years to discover what’s written in thousands of books. I’m happiest when I’m home.”
Going back to the show, the Vanity Fair writer described early frustrations to book guests to appear on the show. And why would that be. Hopefully you’re sitting down because it was because “many of whom would have to be up for Morning Joe.”
“Soon enough, though, that began to change. Reporters who were regularly breaking stories well into the evening, including Ashley Parker, Jonathan Lemire, and Philip Rucker, became a rotating cast of regular characters,” she added.
Hold on a second. Enough with the show and back to the traveling circus of rehabilitating Brian Williams and help from liberals like Jeremy Bash:
In the grittier world of late-night news, Williams recruited talent the old-fashioned way—with a little fawning, and occasional avuncular sangfroid. “I tend to over-introduce my guests when they come on,” Williams admitted when I pressed him on the sentence-long biographies he lavishes upon guests. “It is one of my things. We have terrific people. I will never introduce someone only as an analyst. It’s diminishing. I try to love on them. They’re doing us a terrific favor. They not only make our broadcasts better, they make our broadcast.” Guests also knew that it wasn’t the kind of cable show where the host forces an argument between his guests, or argues with them himself. “Everything that cable TV is pilloried for, Brian is the antithesis of,” Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency, who said he has been on the show 60 times so far this year, told me. “He lets us talk. He doesn’t cut us off. His questions are always of the variety of what the heck should people make of this. It gives us a chance to bottom-line. It’s a tonic for our times.”
Nicolle Wallace, who now hosts the network’s 4 p.m. hour and is a frequent guest on Williams’s show, said that she could send him 10 e-mails throughout the day with things she heard from sources, and he would manage to seamlessly work them all into the broadcast. “By the end of it, he would empty my whole notebook.” He also gave her an invaluable piece of advice before she launched her own show, telling her that the surest way to not trip over the teleprompter is to write your own copy.
“Mostly, they told me, he seems unfailingly grateful to be there, he seems to be enjoying it, and they like his show. Williams, for his part, seems genuinely humbled by his experience. In our numerous conversations, he appeared as humbled by his good fortune as he once was vexed by his previous behavior. And he made clear that he is perfectly content to stay where he is now,” Fox later added.
To wind down the piece, she used the renovation of the space in which The 11th Hour is taped as a metaphor for his career:
Williams tapes the show in the newsroom on the third floor, which just underwent a renovation. Through the demolition, the tearing down of drywall and tearing up of worn carpet, they found an original terrazzo floor that a building supervisor told Williams dates back to when the Rockefeller family built it during the height of the Great Depression. Lack, he said, had it spiffed up and shined, and now it’s the floor he walks on to get to his nightly broadcast.
By 10:40 p.m., it was almost showtime. His staff started piling into a cramped control room hidden deep within the 30 Rock maze....About 10 minutes before the show, Williams made his way to studio 3A to tape the opening lines and greet the guests waiting for him on set, just beyond the newly buffed, uncovered terrazzo floor. “The metaphors are many and obvious,” he said. “We all stand on great things here—and second acts are possible, with a little spiffing up.”
Yuck. It’s certainly nice to be a liberal.